Who are We? Where Will We Be in 2084? What Will Be Our Brave New World?

The evidence kept piling up. Over just three days, I spotted several newspaper articles that seemed to be saying the same thing: our communication skills are withering away.

The first was an article bemoaning the loss of penmanship. Some state department of education (okay, it was Indiana) obliterated the teaching of cursive writing in their schools. Imagine not knowing how to write your name, or keep notes in a lecture, or autograph a book, and having to print out those things. Imagine!

The next was an item about the way we learn. This one lamented the loss of learning facts, replacing this skill by learning where facts hide out. You got it! The Internet. By teaching students where to find facts, they no longer have to remember them. What a waste.

The third shoe to drop was a simple answer on “Jeopardy”: “A book by Frances Hodgson Burnett inspired the velvet suit for boys called ‘Little Lord’ this.” The contestant, a young man in his 30s couldn’t respond. Just consider the diminishing pool of contestants for “Jeopardy” and other trivia games when contestants are away from looking up answers on their computers (or iPads).

How often have you heard an Internet-trained person, when asked questions about events in history, respond with “I don’t know.” I’m talking important facts, such as what set off World War II? or who wrote Gone With the Wind? or what was Marilyn Monroe’s real name? Not that any of these things involve daily life (well, maybe the war thing), but each of these things make life more interesting. And all available without a computer!

One has to wonder how the un-Internetted will survive in the next few years – until the world becomes so imbued with Internet dependence that brains will begin to shrivel up. How prophetic was George Orwell in his book 1984! (Oh, you don’t know what it is about? Look it up on the Internet!) I’ll help: 1984 depicted a world of somnambulists, totally dependent on the government, working at meaningless tasks, and forbidden original thought. Creativity and individualism were abandoned. And all life was policed with Big Brother (yes, that’s where the term came from) looking over everyone’s shoulders. Constant bombardment of loud “music” and insinuating cameras everywhere kept minds struggling for original thought.

Another prophet of the mid-1900s was Aldus Huxley, author of Brave New World, in which his characters’ minds were controlled by a “hangover free” hallucinatory drug called Soma.

In both these authors’ minds were underlying themes of the consequences of losing free language and individual thought. Orwell’s characters were provided a new language, Newspeak, that removed words that could possibly lead to disobedient or rebellious thoughts. Huxley’s government even monitored thoughts. Impossible? Just look around at current “advertising” strategies and government euphemisms.

Anything ringing familiar as yet? Dependence on government/the Internet? Tendency towards making life “happy” by artificial means (read: mindless television and violent movies)? Downplaying original thought and creativity?

Add to that the re-writing of history, confusing the public about past events. Think about questions like “what really happened…” and “is that the way it really began…” surrounding assassinations, wars, treaties, and even the nation’s founders.

A valuable element of creativity results from handwriting; it combines the thought process with sensory touching, the feel of paper and pen.

Learning through research of original documents can never be replaced by listening to someone else’s account of events.

Learning through questioning participants who lived the past through reading individual journals, accounts written (probably with pen and hand) by those involved.

All of these are ways to learn history, what most likely happened.

Here are some ways to stay awake to current events:

  • Read newspapers, especially op-ed pieces that express concerns and opinions. Think for yourself how you would comment on a particular news item.
  • Always ask questions – from those who know, not simply those who pretend to know, the answers.
  • Use the Internet when all else fails, then ask why you couldn’t pull out the information from your own brain.
  • Practice using your language daily, either by writing, defining a thought, describing an object or event, scribbling in a journal or maintaining a blog. Yes, write a daily blog that makes a point, expresses an original thought, asks a question that hasn’t been asked before.
  • Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and look up words; find synonyms and unusual words to use; clarify definitions of seldom used (or big) words.

The importance of taking advantage of new ways of learning, of living, of behaving, cannot be denied. Still, temper all ideas with controlled cynicism; look for reasons behind actions; stay awake to building your own brain activity.

Best advice of all: Read and think for yourself!

© Copyright 2011


About Val Dumond

VAL DUMOND is a writer who is enamored with words and putting them together to tell stories. Trained as a journalist, she also managed an advertising agency and public relations business. She has taught writing classes for many years and now focuses on her own writing, editing for other writers, and helping writers publish their books. She owns Muddy Puddle Press, where most of her books are published. Her favorite writing theme is historical fiction: She has done what-ifs for Klondike Kate — Queen of the Yukon, and the unlucky pilot who in 1933 tried and failed to be the first to fly solo across the Pacific. She also did a what-if about the status of women at a bank where she once was overworked and underpaid. (Kate received a new love interest at the age of 70; the pilot received a second chance at his heart's desire 50 years later; and the women of the bank rebelled enough to improve their wages and place women on the Board of Directors.) See: SUGAR, SPICE, AND STONE; WHEN ROOSTERS FLY; and A LITTLE REBELLION…. But Val's grammar books are the ones that draw attention. Her latest, AMERICAN-ENGLISH—The Official Guide (written for writers), is a culmination of five other books about language she has written. This new book urges writers to develop their own writing style by creating their own Style Manual, composed of preferences among the many choices that American-English provides. In it, she uses examples of uses for the various parts of language and punctuation, sets aside a section that's full of writing tips, includes a glossary and index for easy access to language solutions.
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